I got into a discussion with Recovering WS the other day (you can read the exchange in the comment section of this post) that got me thinking about lies and the motivation behind them. The law distinguishes between murder committed with intent and killings that are unintentional collateral damage to another act. Should we do the same with deception? Does it matter if the lie was intended to protect (either self or others)? Does that make it less morally egregious than a mistruth that is crafted as a piercing barb?
“I always say the truth is best even when we find it unpleasant. Any rat in a sewer can lie. It’s how rats are. It’s what makes them rats. But a human doesn’t run and hide in dark places, because he’s something more. Lying is the most personal act of cowardice there is.”
― Nancy Farmer, The House of the Scorpion
We all lie. To ourselves and to others. We all are guilty of rewriting facts to fill in missing pieces or to alter reality. (See Lose Your Illusion.) But we don’t all lie in the same ways. With the same intent.
Lie to Self
This is probably the most frequent of all the mistruths. Many of these are not even conscious; our brains act to fill in missing information, making assumptions in the process. Or the fallibility of memory covered up with fiction. Others develop over time as we replace more accurate memories with more desired ones, details changing with the years. Some of these are more intentional, lies told to protect the image that we carry of ourselves or of our world.
“The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Many of these lies to self are harmless. It doesn’t really matter if the fish you caught grows a little longer with each recall or that you see yourself as the best player on the neighborhood basketball team. But these lies can also cause harm, such as when you discount the number of drinks you’ve consumed or conveniently forget to tally up the calories from your dinner date’s plate. Often these lies come from a desire – almost need – to correct cognitive dissonance, a disconnect between our beliefs and incoming evidence. We reconcile the two by altering the truth.
The stories we tell ourselves create our realities. And when those stories are anchored in falsehoods, our realities aren’t too real. And that can become a problem. Check out Self Deception to read more.
“Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The lies we tell ourselves are not all bad. Check out this interesting piece on how editing your life story can aide the healing process. That is basically what I did with my former life by writing and sharing the story. Since the pen is in my hands, I can chose to shape and interpret the past in a way that helps me. Self deception? Probably. But at least it has let me find peace and forgiveness.
Self deception is inescapable, yet its negative incarnation can be limited. Be aware of areas in your life that frighten you and instead of turning a blind eye, look directly at them. That is where your lies to self most likely reside. Trust that you can handle the truth and then face it.
Lie to Protect Self
This is often the first lie perfected by the child, the “I don’t know who ate the cookie!” defense. It can often be an extension of the lies we tell ourselves, as we try to project the image we desire. These are lies born of fear – fear that we will be punished, fear that we will not be loved and accepted, fear that we will be judged. And fear is limiting. These are the lies that shelter the ego, that build a fortress around the broken heart, that form a protective shield around our vulnerable core. Being honest risks the very real threat of being rejected. But lying means that your true self is never really accepted. And, taken to the extreme, it means your true self may be buried beneath an ever-gowing pile of falsehoods.
“Over time, any deception destroys intimacy, and without intimacy couples cannot have true and lasting love.”
― Bonnie Eaker Weil, Financial Infidelity: Seven Steps to Conquering the #1 Relationship Wrecker
Lie to Protect Others
When you do this, even with noble intentions, you are choosing someone else’s truth for them. Whether telling them that they look good in that dress or withholding information that you deem them unable to handle, you have appointed yourself the gatekeeper of their reality. In many ways, this is the lie born of the ego, assuming that you are in the superior position.
“The worst part was that I had things I wanted to tell my mother, too many to count, but none of them would go down so easy. She’d been through too much, between my siters-I could not add to the weight. So instead, I did my best to balance it out, bit by bit, word by word, story by story, even if none of them were true.”
― Sarah Dessen, Just Listen
Lie to Distract and Cover
This is the preferred language of the addict, although it is my no means limited to those battling addiction. Much like a magician on a stage, these lies are designed to turn the attention away from the action, whether that be a visit to the bar or the arms of another. These are lies born of desperation, deceptions that become increasingly necessary in order to carry out covert actions. The recipients of these lies were not the intended targets but they often become collateral damage.
Lie to Harm
This is the one I struggle with understanding. I know this happens. I know there are people that wish to hurt others. But I cannot comprehend the motivation. These lies would be the murder 1 of falsehoods, deliberate and malevolent in intent from the outset.
When I received the text that ended my marriage, I learned that I had been living within a mirage. At first, I saw my ex as the deliberate and vicious creator of that facade. I believed his deceptions were designed to kill. Now? I no longer feel that way. I think he lied to protect me, wanting to shield me from his employment and financial troubles. I believe he lied to cover his ever-growing addiction. I think he lied to avoid detection and the ensuing consequences. I think he lied to himself about the severity of the problems, telling himself that he could still climb out of the deepening hole.
“When people cheat in any arena, they diminish themselves-they threaten their own self-esteem and their relationships with others by undermining the trust they have in their ability to succeed and in their ability to be true.”
― Cheryl Hughes
And, as for myself, I think I was only too happy to believe those lies since the truth was too ugly to bear. I allowed him to create my reality, handing over the reigns of my perceptions.
Once I altered my view of his deceptions, I softened towards him. It let me see him as broken rather than evil. It helped me see myself as collateral damage rather than a victim. Of course, the crazy part? Maybe I’m just lying to myself about his intentions because it fits in better with my reality.
Lying is like any another behavior – the more you do it, the more you do it. It becomes a habit. You become fluent in its language, speaking it with ease and little forethought. Lies feed upon fear and doubt and can hold us prisoner if we do not notice the bindings in time. It’s impossible to never be subject to fiction; our brains are wired to tell stories. Just be careful of the stories you tell, both to yourself and to others. Make them tales that you can be proud of.
A lie may take care of the present, but it has no future. ~Author Unknown
And, in the spirit of Gilda Radner, that’s the truth:)